I’ve heard that some companies are changing over to paperless I-9 records. How do I go about doing so, and what are the benefits? — Harlan R., HR Specialist in Long Beach
Immigration law requires employers to verify their employees’ identity and employment eligibility. To do so, employers must complete an Employment Eligibility Verification form—Form I-9—within three days of an employee’s hire. Employers do not file the I-9s with the government, but they must keep them on file for the longer of three years after an employee is hired or one year after termination. Note that the government released a revised Form I-9 at the end of last year, omitting five documents which previously could have been presented by an employee to establish proof of identity and employment eligibility.
A major development in I-9s over the last few years was the issuance of regulations allowing companies to maintain paperless I-9s—they may electronically complete, sign, and store the forms. An important turn for employers, this process allows them to comply with I-9 requirements without a lot of paperwork. The electronic signature and storage allows companies to scan existing paper I-9s and convert them into electronically stored files, then toss the original hard copies, eliminating significant amounts of paper. The paperless system is cost efficient, easier, reduces errors, enhances security and privacy, and often saves time. Employers also can create backup systems to protect their files.
Electronic Signatures and Storage
The regulations allow for several different methods to electronically sign an I-9, including electronic signature pads and “click to accept” dialog boxes. Overall, the system is very flexible for the employer.
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You cannot, however, just scan a pile of paper I-9s and keep them all together in a database. The regulations require employers to be able to index and sort the stored I-9s. You must be able to sort the forms by employee name, date of hire, and so on, and you should be able to search for those fields in the I-9s. However, once you’ve put your I-9s into an appropriate electronic system, you can destroy the original paper forms.
Before you take the plunge and go paperless, data privacy issues must be addressed, so make sure your system is secure. However, I haven’t encountered an electronic system that isn’t far more secure than the pieces of paper that were floating around before. Our firm, for example, has developed electronic I-9s for our clients to use; they’ve found that the paperless system is secure—and a time saver. The companies can run reports, manage their I-9s electronically, and do everything automatically, so adhering to the I-9 rules has become much easier.
For More Information
To learn more about paperless I-9s and electronic storage, and to access the revised I-9, visit the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.
Cynthia J. Lange, Esq., is a partner in the Santa Clara and San Francisco offices of Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen, and Loewy, LLP, an international immigration law firm. Lange is a former trial attorney with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.